How to Problem Solve Using Hot Pepper

Our line of WBU Hot Pepper Products keeps expanding and we keep seeing more and more birds enjoying a wide range of these products while keeping the squirrels at bay. We’ve also had several reports of some birds preferring the WBU Hot Pepper Products over the identical non-spicy version of the product. For example, we’ve had several reports of birds preferring WBU Hot Pepper Bark Butter over the original WBU Bark Butter when both are offered as options. Currently, some of our best selling and most popular products are from our line of WBU Hot Pepper Products. In addition, we get asked more questions about these products than almost any others including: Do they really work? Is it safe for the birds to eat WBU Hot Pepper Products? What animals will it deter? We’ve created a problem-solving page in hopes of answering some of the popular questions we get in detail.

Here is a current list of all our WBU Hot Pepper Products:

Please note that all of information provided on our website about our products is meant to be informative only. For more information regarding prices and shipping (within Canada only) please visit our store in Barrie (515 Bryne Drive, Barrie, ON), phone us (705) 726-7600 or send us an email at [email protected].

Jim Carpenter, the founder and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited, recently included information in his book The Joy of Bird Feeding* about hot pepper/capsaicin products. The following is an excerpt from his book.

“The use of Hot Pepper/Capsaicin products in birds food has been subject to some debate.

Does it work to discourage Squirrels?

Hot peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which comes in all levels of “heat.” Capsaicin is added to wild bird foods as a powder or oil, mainly to deter squirrels, raccoons, and other mammals. It is clear that many birds will eat bird food with hot pepper products on them and that squirrels will avoid it.

One of the few tests of hot pepper bird seed was conducted in 2000 by scientists at Cornell. They confirmed that capsaicin-coated seed works against Gray Squirrels, and that capsaicin-treated seed still appealed to wild birds. There were more bird visits to the feeders because the squirrels spent less time there. This study also showed that capsaicin-treated seed did not discourage Eastern Chipmunks, which filled their pouches and left to store the food. It was suggested that their fur-lined cheek pouches protected the chipmunks from the heat caused by the hot pepper seed.

Is it safe for the birds to eat hot pepper food?

In mammals, capsaicin from hot pepper interacts with a specific receptor protein called VR1 (vanilloid receptor 1) found on nerve endings, and evokes sensations of burning and pain. Scientist have isolated the VR1 receptor in birds and found that capsaicin does not bind to it, thus it does not produce a painful sensation. Capsaicin alone does not irritate or damage tissues in the mouth, eyes or digestive tract of birds. In fact, several species of birds and wild peppers have evolved a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship, in which the birds consume the pepper’s fruits and then go on to disperse the seeds. Turkeys, Curve-billed Thrashers, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Gila Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, Elegant Trogons, Great Kiskadees, Tropical Kingbirds and Hepatic Tanagers have all been documented eating the fruits of different capsicum species in the wild.

Capsaicin-treated bird food has been on the market for over 15 years, and its anecdotal track record is remarkably unblemished. There are virtually no reports by ornithologists or hobbyists of the use of this food resulting in declines in feeder bird populations or causing the birds health problems. Although the anecdotal evidence to date strongly suggests that birds are unharmed by capsaicin-treated foods, there is still no empirical data providing that capsaicin is safe for all feeder birds.

Is it safe for hobbyists to offer hot pepper foods?

Capsaicin is added as ground powder or as liquid oil. Both coat the seed, and both coat the feeders that hold the seed. The powder has potentially greater danger than oil for humans at the time of filling the feeders as it is more easily separated from the seed by wind and may blow onto the hobbyist. The oil may have more danger to humans long-term as it will soak into wooden products and is not as easily hosed off of plastic and metal surfaces. The danger to hobbyists may not be at the time of filling the feeders (if they are wearing rubber gloves) but might come later as feeders with residual surface hot pepper are unsuspectingly handled without gloves. If eye, noses or lips are rubbed than a reaction to the hot pepper could range from mild to severe. Hot pepper can be added to suet products, bird food cakes, cylinders and seed. I have always felt that these are the safest use of hot pepper for humans as these “bind” the hot pepper. It cannot be blown into our eyes, and I feel that these products leave less residual oil or powder on our fingers and feeders than loose seed with hot pepper.”

*Excerpt from The Joy of Bird Feeding – The Essential Guide to Attracting and Feeding Our Backyard Birds [2017] by Jim Carpenter, founder of Wild Birds Unlimited.

Colour Variation in Hot Pepper Products

The colour of our WBU Hot Pepper Products can vary from one batch to another, and sometimes right in the same batch. In other words, you may notice that half your bag of WBU Hot Pepper Bark Butter Bits is a nice bright shade of orange, while the other half of that bag is a totally different colour. Variation in colouring does not mean that the product is ineffective. It simply means that the product colour has varied from one batch to another based on the colour of the ingredients added. For example, some batches of roasted peanuts are darker than others which can contribute to a colour variation. Exposure to the sun can also alter the colour.

Typically, sun exposure results in products that have a “faded” appearance. Products that have a colour variation still work effectively to discourage mammals, regardless of their appearance.

Weather and Capsaicin

It is really important to take weather into consideration when offering WBU Hot Pepper Products. The hot pepper (capsaicin) is bound into WBU products. This means the capsaicin is bound all the way into the interior of our products, such as suet and cylinders. In other words, the hot pepper is not just on the outside of the product it’s bound all the way into the middle of assembled products and/or coats each individual seed and nut.

Binding the products is typically a little more durable than powders and oil additives. However, if hot pepper products get prolonged exposure to wet weather including rain and snow it is possible that some of the capsaicin will wash away, making the products more appealing to squirrels and other mammals and less effective as a deterrent. For this reason, we strongly recommend you only feed WBU Hot Pepper Products in feeders that offer protection from the elements or in feeders that have added protection such as a WBU Weather Dome

When to Use Hot Pepper Products?

There are some scenarios in which it is virtually impossible to defeat squirrels, for example window feeders on a brick house (squirrels can climb brick) and feeders on a deck setup. In such situations we always first recommend a good squirrel resistant feeder (The Eliminator **cough cough**), however when other options such as a baffle, a good squirrel resistant feeder or cages aren’t an option, WBU Hot Pepper Products are a wonderful alternative. Safflower is a great seed to try to deter squirrels with, however some squirrels enjoy safflower and there are only a select few birds that eat it. If you don’t get the birds that enjoy safflower, the seed will go uneaten- WBU Hot Pepper Products would be a better alternative.

What Animals is Hot Pepper Effective Against?

While the results of WBU Hot Pepper Products will vary between one individual mammal to another, in general these products have been found to be effective at deterring:

There is also strong evidence to suggest they are also effective against bears, however if you live in bear country please read our section on Problem Solving: Bears.

How Effective are Hot Pepper Products?

In general, our WBU Hot Pepper Products are around 90% effective against squirrels and other mammals (chipmunks excluded as per above). They are more effective than safflower products which prevent squirrels and other mammals (chipmunks excluded) about 80% of the time. However, as we all know, nothing is 100% in nature and just like humans, squirrels and other mammals spice tolerance varies from individual to individual. There are squirrels and other mammals who don’t mind the spice or who develop a fondness for it over time and will happily gobble up WBU Hot Pepper products. If you have critters that enjoy the heat, it may be time to switch to another method of excluding squirrels or other creatures from your feeders.

How to Feed WBU Hot Pepper Products?

When offering WBU Hot Pepper Products, they must be the only thing in a feeder. In other words, you can’t mix WBU Hot Pepper Products with other non-hot pepper options. For example, you wouldn’t want to mix regular Bark Butter with Hot Pepper Bark Butter as animals will just eat around the spicy option. WBU Hot Pepper Products must be fed on their own to be effective.

Hot Pepper Safety

As pointed out by Jim Carpenter in The Joy of Bird Feeding, capsaicin coated seeds can bother people when it comes into contact with our eyes, nose, mouth and lips. It’s important to take care when using our WBU Hot Pepper Products. Rubber dish gloves would be a good accessory to have on hand when using these foods or washing feeders.  

Can’t I just Make My Own Hot Pepper Products?

Items with hot pepper (capsaicin) cause a reaction in humans. If eyes, noses or lips are rubbed, a reaction to hot pepper could range from mild to severe. Choosing products where the hot pepper is bound to the products (such as our WBU line of Hot Pepper Products), taking caution when filling or washing feeders is an important part of using these products. Do not attempt to make hot pepper products at home. Our WBU Hot Pepper Products have been specially formulated and tested to ensure it is safe for the birds. They are made in a facility where staff wear the proper safety equipment to ensure they don’t experience a reaction to the capsaicin. If you try making hot pepper deterrents at home it may not be safe for the birds or you!

Are Hot Pepper Products for Every Hobbyist?

No. In short hot pepper products are not the right products for everyone. Only you can decide if they are right for you and your yard. We are happy to offer suggestions if you would like to give them a try or if you would prefer another option to keep the critters at bay, after all we have lots of great options available!


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